Saturday, February 23, 2013

Author Martha Alderson: Tips on REVISION

Today on Writermorphosis I want to link you once again to another quick tip from Author Martha Alderson ("the Plot Whisperer").  Martha is the author of more than 8 books on plotting and writing novels, including "The Plot Whisperer" and "The Plot Whisperer Workbook," as well as "Blockbuster Plots Plain and Simple."   In addition to her books she shares a lot of very helpful and specific writing, revising, and plotting tips on You Tube.

Today's tips -- there are two -- focus on Revising your novel manuscript.  Enjoy!   


Below also see Martha's great short video on 


Thanks Martha!

 As always, we've got some more great author interviews coming up over the next few weeks and months from well-published YA, MG and PB authors giving us tips from their experience on various aspects of the craft.

Happy Revising and Re-writing to All!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Author Adam Rex Talks - 1st pages & 1st Chapters

Welcome back, all!  This is the 2nd half or the interview with funny and brilliant Illustrator-Author Adam Rex (read the prior link at your own risk! Seriously!)

Adam's the author of 3 MG and YA novels - including the award-winning The True Meaning of Smekday, (which will be a movie in 2014). His recently-released a YA novel, Fat Vampire - a never coming of age, story - is a tale about an over-weight, nerdy  teen who is bitten by a vampire at age 15 and now is doomed to be a nerdy, overweight, can't-get-a girlfriend teen... forever.  Adam creates a great mix of funny and serious themes in his novels, and is currently working on a new Trilogy.  He's also the author/illustrator of 4 hilarious picture books, and he's illustrated countless books for others.  His picture book Frankenstein makes a Sandwich was a New York Times Best Seller!


Last week Adam shared great tips on characterization, and how to handle difficult themes in middle grade novels.  This week he's here to answer two final questions, and we're talking about "How to begin a book well."

Let's jump in.  Welcome, Adam!
Here on Writermorphosis plotting and organizing our novels is always a hot topic.  During last Saturday’s interview, we touched briefly on the idea of starting your MG or YA book “in the right place in the plot.”  We looked at how you did that with your award-winning MG novel, The True Meaning of Smekday.  So, today we want to talk more about that. Please tell us, when you plot your MG or YA books, how do you decide where to  start the story?  We realize that stories may “start” before the 1st page of the book (AKA: back-story) and some aspects of a story may go on after the final page, just like in real life.  So how do you, personally, decide where to jump into the plot on page 1?

Well, there's this idea floating around that you should always start your story at the latest possible moment.  As close to the rising action as you can.  And I like this idea, but I've never been terribly consistent about doing it myself.

I don't tend to plot my stories, I just jump in and start writing.  I work out plot issues later by rewriting and moving things around.  That's how I wrote Smekday, but I must have had some instinct for what the story was going to need, because the first 5000 words I wrote are still the first 5000 words of the book, with minor edits.  Same with Fat Vampire.  

I only really started worrying about pre-plotting recently, and that's because I was halfway through writing the second novel of my new trilogy and realized I had no clear idea where it was going.  And the first novel had just come out, so there was no changing that.  I'd talked through plot ideas a lot with my wife, but it wasn't until this crisis moment that I recognized that I had to put the ground-level writing aside and actually outline.

What I ended up making was not an outline per se, but rather a spreadsheet with rows for each of my major characters, and columns taking them all through a timeline.  I still refer to this, even though some of the particulars of even this plot have changed as I've written.

Thanks, Adam!  I do like that suggestion of `starting your story as close to the rising action as you can.' That does seem like it would jump the reader right into the action very quickly and keep them interested. Hmmm...

Thanks too for the explanation of your outlining "spreadsheet" that you have created! That may work for others of us who really aren't "outliners" on the front end either. 

So, as a follow up to the question of  `at what point in the plot should you start your story on page one,' can you please also tell us, in your experience what mix of action, character, or setting do you feel needs to be in a book's first chapter in order to make readers want to keep reading the whole book? (No pressure!)

I wish I knew.  I think this is something I'm really still figuring out.  At least a couple of my books have been described as slow starters, and I want to address that.  On the other hand, many of the methods by which some authors parachute the reader into high-octane action, and always end each chapter with heart-stopping cliffhangers, and cram the exposition in later with a conversation or a "He couldn't help but think about all the crazy things that had brought him to this moment" kind of segue, seem like gimmicks to me

I'm trying to find what's good in the gimmickry while not losing a handle on my own voice.

Thanks for that great honesty, Adam.  I think you're right that "voice" in most books is definitely at least as important as `high octane action.'  Perhaps we can talk more about this as we continue with these wonderful author interviews! 

Thanks so much for being with us for these past two interviews, and for sharing just a tiny bit of what you know with us!

Ha ha!  I really do love this great cover of one of Adams most recent books!

Also, for those who haven't yet had time to peruse Adam's website, it's a fun one, and a great example for other authors to follow! Click on "The True Meaning of Smekday" once you get to the site, to see on of the most "voice"-filled and fun pages for a book on an author's site, ever! Don't miss the "Smekday" video there - hilarious!

See you all next week for more author tips, right here on Writermorhphosis.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Author Adam Rex talks MG Characters & Themes

Illustrator-Author Adam Rex is the author of 3 MG and YA novels - including the award-winning The True Meaning of Smekday, and his recently-released YA novel, Fat Vampire - a never coming of age, story  - a tale about an over-weight, nerdy  teen who is bitten by a vampire at age 15 and now is doomed to be a nerdy, overweight, can't-get-a girlfriend teen... forever.  Adam creates a great mix of funny and serious themes in his novels.  He's also written 4 hilarious picture books, and illustrated countless books for others.  His picture book Frankenstein makes a Sandwich was a New York Times Best Seller.

In June 2012, Dreamworks Animation announced that they had cast Rihanna and Jim Parsons as voice actors for Happy Smekday!, an animated screen adaptation of Adam's Book The True Meaning of Smekday, planned for theatrical release in late 2014.  Congratulations Adam, and thanks for being here!  

The True Meaning of Smekday  is an award-winning middle grade novel that combines difficult themes of loss, change, and the need for courage, with humor and laugh-out-loud moments.  Let's talk about "Smekday" in our questions today.

Ok, Here's question #1)
In The True Meaning of Smekday, you tell a story about a little girl who has to deal with a tragic situation in which she and the inhabitants of her entire country (the U.S.) are forcefully relocated by an invading alien army. The aliens separate families, destroy communities, and take away human rights. It seems like this story could make middle grade readers afraid, and could come across as too serious. But after reading the book, readers are left with a positive feeling, and we remember mostly hilarious scenes and characters  -- like JLo the alien --  as well as moments of empowerment, joy, and courage throughout the book.  

Many of us as writers have difficulty finding this good balance between funny or upbeat scenes  and serious deeper meaning and themes in our novels.  So, how did you do it?  Can you give some specific tips/techniques on how to write and maintain this proper mix of age-appropriate humor/happy scenes combined with serious themes in books for middle graders and teens?

Tips?  I don't know if I have any tips.  When I introduce schoolkids to my aliens (the Boov) I'm always keen to point out how embarrassing it would be to be conquered by a race as cute as they are–they're short, shaped like a flip-top trash can, with little arms and big grins.  But I think it goes a long way that our conquerors in this book aren't faceless monsters.  I had earlier ideas for what the Boov might look like, and I eventually rejected them because they weren't relatable enough.

My main thesis for the book is really that the Boov aren't anything special.  They're just people.  They're out-of-towners, but they're people, with the same flaws and faults that we have.

And I think it helps that, very early on in the book, my kid character meets a Boov face-to-face and kind of bests him.  And he's friendly, and sort of incompetent.  I don't begin the book with the invasion and persecution, I begin it after the invasion is essentially over, and we've lost, and yet no one really seems to be fearing for her life.  We're getting pushed around, told what to do, but kids understand that kind of business as their default state anyway.  So the reader learns about the mild horror of the invasion after she's already met one of the aliens, and has probably decided that she likes him.

I often think of this as the "Tony Soprano Effect."  In the first episode of The Sopranos we're introduced to Tony, and he's giddily wading around in his pool with a bunch of baby ducklings.  And when I remind people of this, they often tell me that they forgot about the ducklings; but I'm convinced they never entirely did.  Over the next 85 episodes Tony does some terrible things, but we were in his corner from the beginning because of those ducks.

Anyway, I'd be lying if I told you that I thought about any of this very hard back then.  It was intuition, and some kind of vague internal barometer to tell me when I'd gone too far, and when I could go farther.

Thanks Adam, I think you made some very good points.  Two things that you mentioned that really stood out to me were: 

1.) Know where to start your book. You started this novel after the biggest trauma was over.  So as readers we still feel it and understand that it's an important part of the story, but it's not close enough to overly-traumatize either the readers, or the main character, a 9 yo girl. 
2.) Make even your "bad guy" characters "relatable."  Make them real people.

Those are great tips for the rest of us. 
QUESTION 2: So, to get even more in depth with an example of how to make the `bad guys’ "real" and "relateable" let’s talk about JLo. J We don’t want to give away everything about this goofy little Boov-on-the-run who befriends your main character Gratuity, but one thing I noticed was his way of speaking.  We all often struggle when trying to write characters who maintain consistent behavioral and speech patterns throughout our books. JLo is a character who does this well.  His behavior and speech patterns define him personally, make us love him, and also tell us a lot about the Boovs as a race.  You made him both personable and funny.

Can you give us some insight into how you gave him such consistent (and hilarious) speech patterns and how you managed to kept them consistent throughout the book?  Are there specific things we as writers can be intentional about when creating and writing characters in order to keep them so consistent?

I'm worried too many of my answers are going to be along the lines of "gut feeling," or "instinct."  I didn't have any set of rules about J.Lo beyond the obvious–as a foreigner, he has the usual suite of language idiosyncrasies: he doesn't often use contractions, or idiom, or slang.  When he DOES use slang it's notable, and when he DOES use idiom he should probably get it wrong.  Other than that, he has a particular problem with prepositions.  I had this vague idea that the Boovish language doesn't have them, or that they have modifiers that are added to nouns and verbs so that separate prepositions aren't needed.  So the Boov have some trouble with that.

In general, I seem to develop a sense pretty quickly of what my characters are like, so that I can make judgements about their speech on the fly–Mick wouldn't say this like that, I think, or John wouldn't use that expression.  It doesn't hurt, either, that I sometimes base characters loosely on friends or family, or on how I might imagine a public figure to be.

Another great answer packed with mini-tips, and specifics that we can learn from. Thanks Adam! I do wonder how many friends of novelists snicker as they read our work and find themselves in our pages!

Now we're off to strengthen our own Tony Soprano's, JLo's, and Gratuity's by making them real, sometimes making them friends, and by starting our books at the right places. 

Friday, February 1, 2013

First Lines & First Paragraphs -- by Author Martha Alderson

Martha Alderson is the author of more than 8 books on plotting and
writing novels, including "The Plot Whisperer" and "The Plot
Whisperer Workbook," as well as "Blockbuster Plots Plain and Simple."  
In addition to her books she shares a lot of very helpful and specific
writing, revising, and plotting tips on You Tube.

Today, as I am revising the first chapter of one of my own stories,
I'm sharing her thoughts on "First Lines and First Paragraphs" with all of
you.  Thanks Martha, for posting such succinct yet helpful tips online for
all of us!

Now off we all go to look a bit closer at our current first chapters and paragraphs.
Thanks, Martha!

Next week we'll have hilarious and talented, award-winning
Middle Grade/YA/and PB author Adam Rex interviewed
on writermorphosis. He'll be sharing his thoughts and tips on
specific aspects of writing fiction for middle graders.  See you then!